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EPA emissions powers avoid becoming US budget casualty

By Martin Leggett - 12 Apr 2011 14:14:3 GMT
EPA emissions powers avoid becoming US budget casualty

A truce was drawn this weekend in the ongoing partisan spat over the EPA's climate change powers, as the threatened US governmental shutdown was averted by a cliff-hanger deal. The federal budget was finally signed off by Congressional Democrats and Republicans on Friday night, but without referencing the contentious bill that would have halted the EPA's involvement in regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The 'war of the bills' - seeking to curtail the powers given to the EPA under the Clean Air Act, for regulating climate-changing gases - came to a head last week with Senate and Congress falling on opposing sides of the debate. The Senate kicked the EPA bill back, but Republican-controlled Congress passed it, with a healthy majority.

That left the EPA's role somewhat open to haggling, as the two parties sought to find a budgetary compromise that avoided a government shutdown, from the lack of a budget. But the 'red line' nature of this attack on the EPA was underscored by the Whitehouse, which insisted that a Presidential veto would be used to throw back any such measure.

Then last Friday, the Democrats signaled that if the Republicans dropped their insistence on the bill to 'gut' the EPA, they would support a study that would look into the economic effects of such regulations. Many Republicans have claimed that regulating big polluters, such as power stations and cement factories, would cost US jobs - and wanted to push the saving of the planet to the backseat.

Many in the opposing camp have seen US economic interests as lying in a fuller participation in the 'Clean Energy' economy, where newer sustainable power sources are developed. In the end, though, the details of the final budget agreement left out the any mention of such a study - and also left out any riders that would have stopped the EPA from exercising its powers. That untangling of climate-change action from budget politics was welcomed by President Obama.

After the budget agreement was announced, he issued a statement, saying that ''We ... made sure that at the end of the day, this was a debate about spending cuts, not social issues like women's health and the protection of our air and water. These are important issues that deserve discussion, just not during a debate about our budget.''